April 23 marks 10 years since first video, "Me at the zoo," was uploaded to YouTube
Site gets billions of views every day; 300 hours of uploads every minute
New studios being opened for budget filmmakers to improve quality of output
On the 29th floor of Roppongi Hills, an upscale Tokyo high-rise full of offices, restaurants and residences, two actors in kimonos sit on a tatami mat and glare at each other as artificial smoke billows around them.
It’s been a long day of filming “The Crawler in the Dark,” a new sci-fi horror movie set in Japan’s Meiji era.
This movie won’t be released in theaters; it’s going directly to YouTube. The file sharing website is celebrating 10 years since the first 19-second video “Me at the zoo,” was uploaded on April 23, 2005 by one of the site’s founders.
A decade later, the site gets billions of views every day.
And the most popular YouTube channels draw larger audiences than many TV networks.
In 2015, YouTube is striving to improve the quality of its content by investing in “YouTube Spaces,” like the one in Tokyo, where “creators” like Tokyo independent filmmaker JR Lipartito have access to professional studios, training, and many resources once out of reach for low budget productions.
“Having a set, especially a period set like this, is almost inaccessible for an independent filmmaker,” Lipartito says. “It really breaks down the barriers.”
David Macdonald, who moved to Japan as an English teacher two decades ago, is now the Head of YouTube Spaces for Asia Pacific.
“YouTube is not only cats and dogs on skateboards any more. It’s a place for great content. Great high quality content,” Macdonald says.
The Tokyo space is one of five worldwide available for free to YouTube partners, who create content and share ad revenue with the website.
“Helping creators find better audiences, more audiences, and just improve their craft,” Macdonald says.
YouTube getting glossy
Anyone can create a YouTube channel. The most popular, 25-year-old Swedish gamer PewDiePie, has more than 36 million subscribers. Many of his videos have a viewership that exceeds popular television programs.
YouTube has 300 hours of video uploads per minute. The website wants more of those videos to be polished productions.
Japanese film and TV company Toei is partnering with YouTube to encourage more Japanese samurai dramas – called Jidaigeki. The goal is to attract new subscribers in one of YouTube’s biggest markets.
“They’re building sets. We have high quality cameras, high quality sets, high quality actors,” says Bob Werley, one of the actors in “The Crawler in the Dark.”
Werley and fellow actor Masa Hitokawahata hope their higher quality work will appeal to more of YouTube’s one billion users.
“It’s going to raise the bar,” Werley says. “We’ve seen a lot more people wanting to use [the studio], becoming aware of it, getting excited about it.”
If a video goes viral, the financial rewards can be significant.
Thousands of the most popular YouTube creators earn six-figure incomes through ad revenue and sponsorships. A handful earn in the millions of dollars.